Nothing gets you pumped for the start of the Fall movie blitz quite like the final weeks of summer at the box office. Bring it on! I’m ready for Awards Season! But first… a quick look at the latest releases that are unlikely to gain much traction as families enjoy a final long weekend of togetherness before the days get shorter, kids return to school and commuter garages reach capacity by 8 a.m.
First up on the altar of sacrifice: I Do… Until I Don’t, an ensemble comedy from writer/director/actress Lake Bell (In a World) about marriage and commitment. Here’s the gist: a bitter documentarian from the BBC shows up in divorce-mecca Vero Beach, Florida to test and prove her theory that marriage should be a seven-year contract with the option to renew. She recruits three seemingly diverse couples to appear in her documentary. They include Alice and Noah (Bell and Ed Helms), a boring couple struggling to keep their window-blinds business afloat while also attempting to have a baby; Alice’s kooky sister Fanny (Amber Heard) and her peace-loving soulmate Zander (Wyatt Cenac) who claim to be happy in their forward-thinking ‘open relationship’; and Cybil and Harvey (Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser), an older couple going through a bit of a midlife crisis as their anniversary approaches.
Long story short, the couples gradually come to realize that the ‘acclaimed’ documentarian Vivian (Dolly Wells) is exploiting their personal issues and undermining their relationships. So they devise a plan to expose her, with the whole town watching. The film has moments of humor and poignancy and relatability, but overall it’s a rather lame tribute to the sanctity of marriage.
Crown Heights is a decent flick, as long as you’re in the mood for a film that’s likely to make you sad – and mad. It’s not nearly as compelling (or brutal) as the recently-released Detroit, but it does shed some interesting light on another true story about a major miscarriage of justice. It’s about a guy named Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield, Get Out, Straight Outta Compton) who was wrongfully convicted in the murder of a New York teenager, and his best friend Carl (former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha) who sacrificed time, money and marriage in a 20-year crusade to secure Warner’s freedom. What took so long? A combination of bad cops, bad witnesses, bad representation, flawed appeals and parole hearings… and a whole lot of bad luck for Wilson, both in and out of prison. The movie is based on a 2005 segment that ran on national public radio’s “This American Life” (long before “Serial” became a thing). The storyline reminded me a bit of Gideon’s Trumpet, Henry Fonda’s classic film about indigent defendants having a constitutional right to counsel. Only in this case, court-appointed counsel completely failed the defendant. Ironically, the Crown Heights murder took place the same year Gideon’s Trumpet came out – 1980. Warner’s conviction was overturned in 2001. By the time the exoneration finally plays out near the end of the film, and Warner walks free, you’re more than ready for the whole ordeal to be over… and perhaps a bit inclined to donate to the Innocence Project.
It’s almost fitting that Polina dances into theaters right on the heels of the animated French film Leap! Both are about young girls’ dreams of making it as a professional ballerina. The problem is – neither film quite lives up to its potential. I can give Leap! a bit of a pass since it’s pretty standard, formulaic animated fluff. But I wanted more from Polina. The choreography is compelling, but the character development and the narrative don’t add up (perhaps they do in the Bastien Vives graphic novel that Polina is based on). The film begins with a young, free-spirited Polina (Veronika Zhovnytska) showcasing that she has the right stuff to dance her way out of her bleak working-class neighborhood in Russia. I really liked the young Polina but barely had time to know her when, bam! – after a quick montage of training with a grumpy instructor who looks like a Russian version of Tommy Lee Jones – Polina has transformed into a young woman (professional ballerina Anastasia Shevtsova) auditioning for the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet. She gets in – but finds the choreography of classical dance stifling – especially after she gets a taste of modern dance and decides to pursue that path instead. She moves to Paris with her French boyfriend and starts working with a modern-dance guru played – all too fleetingly – by veteran French actress Juliette Binoche (yes, she can dance). But that doesn’t work out so well for Polina either. She’s still finding herself – and her footing. She ends up working at a bar in Belgium to scrape together enough money to survive while figuring out the whole dance thing. The film – in Russian and French with English subtitles – is at its best when Polina and her fellow dancers are performing – whether it’s classical, contemporary or something in between, on stage or on the street. So if you’re a fan of foreign film – and dance – you could do worse than Polina. Just don’t expect a raucous standing ovation.